Baseball America released the 2013 edition of their popular annual Top 100 Prospects List today. Three Washington Nationals prospects, Anthony Rendon (No. 30), Lucas Giolito (No. 67) and Brian Goodwin (No. 70) ranked.
Fourteen organizations had more prospects on the list, with the Cardinals, Marlins and Twins leading the way with six each. Behind the Marlins, the Nationals were second among NL East division clubs. The Mets had three prospects listed, while the Braves and Phillies had two a piece.
All three of the Nats that ranked were first-round draft picks.The club took Lucas Giolito with the 16th overall pick last June. The year before, Rendon and Goodwin were selected sixth and 34th overall. The Nats actually drafted Alex Meyer (No. 59) between them, at 23rd overall, but traded him to the Twins for Denard Span this offseason.
Along with Trevor Rosenthal (No. 39), Brian Goodwin was one of two included prospects selected out of junior college.
In their “Top 100: Best Tools” article, which names the prospects with the most impressive skills, BA rated Lucas Giolito as having the third-best fastball among the Top 100, and the second-best curveball. That’s high praise for the eighteen-year-old kid; especially considering the Nats only drafted him out of high school last June, and he threw just two innings in his Aug. 14th professional debut before leaving with a sprained elbow.
The Nationals have successfully graduated a large portion of their top prospects over the years. Danny Espinosa and Wilson Ramos, who were 66th and 96th respectively in 2011, each established themselves as key members of the big club over the past two seasons. Bryce Harper, who was the rated as the game’s top prospect in both 2011 and 2012, is the reigning NL Rookie of the Year.
The Nats starting rotation also includes three homegrown former Top-100 members. Stephen Strasburg was ranked second in 2010, Jordan Zimmermann was No. 41 in ’09 and Ross Detwiler was No. 51 in ’08. Drew Storen, who was the club’s closer last year, was No. 93 in 2010.
And then there’s Ryan Zimmerman, the club’s face and on-field leader. Zim was the Nats’ sole Top-100 member in 2006.
According to BA’s Conor Glassey, two-thirds of the 2012 MLB All-Star rosters appeared on a past Top-100 Prospects List, and 89 percent of its members (between 1990-2009) have made the Major Leagues. Since 1990 when the list was first published, former members have taken home 29 MVP awards and 19 Cy Young Awards.
Rendon at No. 30
Rendon, the National’s highest-ranked prospect this season, has the chops to be a super-star. His hitting prowess inked him in to the NCAA’s record books during his career at Rice University, and his swing is mechanically near-perfect. Though injuries limited his on-field production in his professional debut last summer, he still managed to post an .831 OPS. He tore apart more advanced pitching this fall however, in the AFL, when he hit a sparkling .338/.436/.494 through 22 games and led the Salt River Rafters to the championship.
In terms of talent, Rendon has the ability to thrust himself in to the top five prospects. Multiple ankle injures have slowed him down, however, and he’s therefore fallen a few spots since placing nineteenth on the 2012 list. But, because many of his fellow prospects are poised to move to other positions, Rendon is arguably still the best third base prospect in the minors.
None of the prospects listed as third baseman that rank ahead of Rendon–Wil Myers (No. 4), Miguel Sano (No. 9), Nick Castellanos (No. 21) and Mike Olt (No. 22)–project to remain at third base in the majors. Scouts generally grade Rendon’s defense, however, between Major League average and plus already, and he’s a potential Gold Glover if he continues to develop.
Myers, who’s a superb hitting prospect, played just thirteen games at third base last season and has spent just fifteen there in his career. Now that he’s in the Rays organization, and blocked by Evan Longoria, he’s all but glued to the outfield. Nick Castellanos is in a similar boat. The 2012 Futures Game MVP moved off of third base and in to the outfield mid-way through last summer.
Miguel Sano, who is just 19 years-old, has shown little beyond arm strength to convince evaluators he can stick at the hot corner. He’s made a whopping 30 errors in 622 career chances, and while he’s shown some improvement recently, he’s still far away from being a stomachable fielder.
Outside of Rendon, Mike Olt is the best defender at the hot corner among this year’s crop of third baseman. However, he’s effectively blocked by Adrian Beltre, one of the best defensive third baseman in the history of baseball. While Rendon is blocked by Ryan Zimmerman, the obstacle isn’t quite as insurmountable. Zimmerman’s injury woes and LaRoche’s two-year contract at first base should open some doors. And even if he does have to move, he has the glove and feet to play a very good middle infield.
Though Rendon’s ankle injuries are worrisome, the odds appear to be with him. Players like Rendon (ranked 19th in ’12 and 30th in ’13), who’ve ranked in the Top 25 before, are almost guaranteed to play in the major leagues. All but three who have placed in the list’s Top 25 over the past two decades have failed to reach the big leagues. And of the 22 third baseman who have ranked among the Top 30 between 1999 and 2009, 16 (73 percent) have earned a starting job for at least two seasons. Zimmerman, along with Evan Longoria (No. 7 in ’07 and No. 2 in ’08), David Wright (No. 73 in ’03 and No. 24 in ’04), Miguel Cabrera (No. 91 in ’01, No. 38 in ’02 and No. 12 in ’03) and Eric Chavez (No. 53 in ’97, No. 30 in ’98 and No.3 in ’99) have graduated to very productive MLB careers.
Giolito at No. 67
Giolito’s Top 100 debut at No. 67 is a testament to his phenomenal ability.
Though Giolito actually sprained his elbow early in his senior spring at Harvard-Westlake high school, and subsequently had to sit out nearly the entire season, the Nationals were so taken with his talent that they made him their first-round draft pick anyway. Giolito was highly regarded as the best high school pitcher in the draft, but paired with his injury and commitment to UCLA, the MLB’s new hard-slotting draft rules scared many teams from selecting him. The Nats weren’t scared, and selected him with the 16th overall pick and handed him a hefty $3 million bonus to start his pro career.
It says a lot about a pitcher when teams still fawn over him despite needing major reconstructive surgery. A rare prospect, Giolito profiles almost perfectly as a big league starter. He’s long and strong, at 6’6″ and his mechanics are surprisingly clean for his age. His electric fastball already touches triple digits and his hard curveball is a back-breaker. His command is also polished, and he repeats his delivery with machine-like consistency. As he fills out and gets stronger, there’s a good chance that he’ll throw even harder, and his easy velocity should make him a very efficient pitcher.
Following the draft, the Nationals treated Giolito carefully. They had him rehab him for a few more months, before trying him on the mound. He ended up leaving his first and only start on August 14th with elbow pain, however, and the Nats sent him to Dr. Lew Yocum for Tommy John surgery soon thereafter.
Tommy John surgery has a very high success rate and about 90 percent of pitchers return to their previous rate of performance. Giolito will sit out next season while recovering, but when he returns to the mound, he has the tools to move quickly. Along with his workhorse build, his premium stuff, mechanics and superb command make him the complete package, and he’s a potential big-league ace.
Goodwin at No. 70
Brian Goodwin, who the Nationals drafted out of Miami-Dade South Junior College two years ago, also has the tools to be a star. Like Rendon and Giolito, his ceiling is on-par with a top-five prospect, and he’s a true five-tool athlete.
Goodwin can run a 6.5-second sixty-yard dash, giving him elite-level speed, and his pretty left-handed swing and above-average raw power profile well as a future two-hole or three-hole hitter. His plate discipline is also above-average, and he’s smart hitter that knows how to work the count. He had a little bit of trouble hitting same-side breaking stuff last season, but that should come with more experience. Defensively, his range and body control work well in centerfield, and he’s a plus in the corners.
In his first taste of professional baseball last year, Goodwin destroyed the competition. He caught fire out of the gate in the South Atlantic League, hitting .324/.438/.542 through early summer, and his .442 weighted on-base average was well above the SAL’s mean of .334. He slumped after a promotion to the Eastern League, but still managed to finish the season with a .280/.384/.469 line, and he hit fourteen homers and stole 18 bases.
Last fall, Goodwin teammed-up with fellow Nats top prospects Matt Skole and Anthony Rendon in the AFL and hit three home runs, 11 extra-base hits and posted an .815 OPS through 20 games. He was named to the AFL Rising Stars team along with Rendon and pitcher Aaron Barrett.
For now, the Nationals’ outfield appears to be pretty crowded with Harper, Jayson Werth and Denard Span firmly in starting spots, and the talents of Roger Bernadina, Tyler Moore, Destin Hood, Michael Taylor and Eury Perez also seeking at bats. Goodwin already made it to double-A in his first pro season, though, and outside of Harper, he’s the most talented of the organization’s outfielders. They might be able to stash him in the minors this season, but his mixture of athleticism and polish should push him in to a big league job very soon.
The Nationals’ system has thinned considerably over the past couple of years, due in part to their graduating multiple players to the MLB, and also to their trading-away a handful of young stars (Meyer, Norris, Milone, Freitas…). But despite this, their system is still deep in premium talent. Beyond the three names listed in BA’s Top 100, the Nats also have a handful of prospects that have what it takes to put together long and successful careers in the MLB.
Out the prospects that were left off of this edition’s Top 100, Christian Garcia and A.J. Cole arguably deserve to be on there the most. Both pitchers have the requisite impressive numbers for the list, and both have the flashy repertoires to back up their performance.
Cole, who ranked 57th as a member of the A’s on the 2012 list, didn’t make it this time around. The former Nationals draft pick was included in the trade that brought Gio Gonzalez to Washington, and then shipped back to the Nats this winter in the Michael Morse trade. A 21-year-old righthander, Cole is an excellent athlete for a pitcher, and he repeats his clean, compact mechanics well. His fastball already sits in the low 90′s, and he spots it to both sides of the plate like a big leaguer, while his curveball and changeup both grade out as future average pitches, or possibly even better.
Cole is built rail-thin, and his velocity and breaking stuff have yet to develop the power that the Nats had hoped they would when they drafted him in 2010. Still, he’s pitching for well for his age, he has plenty of projection left, and his stuff is already solid. After posting a 4.04 ERA in his first full pro season in 2011, he struggled in the hitter-friendly California League to open last spring. An aggressive promotion for a newly-turned 21-year-old with little pro experience, Cole’s fly ball tendencies got him in trouble while pitching in the climate’s bone-dry air and small ballparks.
Cole allowed 60 hits and 33 earned runs in eight starts by the end of the spring. So, rather than having him pitch through the slump, the A’s demoted him to the Midwest League — which is also a home run launching pad — and he quickly recovered his step. While taking the mound for the Beloit Snappers, he struck out 102 batters in 95.2 innings en route to a 2.07 ERA. Despite a rock-solid overall line though, his early-season struggles were enough to get him dropped him from BA’s Top 100.
Christian Garcia likely got snubbed due to his age (27), and an injury history that includes multiple reconstructive elbow surgeries. His talent is undeniable though, and it would’ve been nice to see a brave analyst at BA or MLB.com put his name on their Top 100.
After Garcia suffered through two Tommy John surgeries as a member of the Yankees organization, the Nationals immediately moved him to the bullpen when they inked him to a minor league deal in July, 2011. Since then, he’s ironed-out his delivery and has flourished in shorter outings.
Last year, Garcia flat-out dominated opposing hitters. Through 52.1 innings pitched between the Eastern and International League he struck out 66 and allowed only 31 hits and 48 base-runners. His ERA sat at an unbelievable 0.86 when the Nationals promoted him to the Majors last September, and he didn’t stop there. With the big club, Garcia posted a 2.13 ERA and struck out fifteen batters in 12.2 innings, earning him a spot on the team’s postseason roster.
Garcia’s best pitch is his hard and heavy mid 90′s two-seamer. The pitch features bowling-ball-heavy movement, and batters struggle to square it up, either pounding it in to the ground or whiffing at it completely. He also throws a nasty change-up with a near-identical arm speed and release, and a quality 80 mph spike curve. The three-pitch mix baffles opposing hitters, and he not only struck out a remarkable 11.2 batters per nine innings last year, but he also tallied over four ground ball outs for every fly out last season.
Ryan Kelley is an economist and aspiring journalist living in the D.C. area. Native to Connecticut, he has lived in Washington since graduating from The George Washington University and has covered Minor League Baseball and Team USA for a half-decade. He is founder of BaseballNewsHound.com, and specializes in prospects playing in leagues on the East Coast and in the Mid-Atlantic region. A former ballplayer himself, he enjoys hitting homeruns with his writing and scouting reports. You can follow him on Twitter @BBNewsHound.